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Just the one: The joys and challenges of only children

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

I'm spoilt, selfish and socially inept. It's all my parents fault for not providing me with a genetic playmate. That's bunkum (hopefully) but it's a common myth that still exists when it comes to only children.

We aren't all Violet Beauregarde or Little Lord Fauntleroy, far from it. Plenty of studies show single children are pretty similar to those with siblings.

"Only children measure up just the same as anyone else in hundreds of studies, the differences being that they, or I should say we, tend to be higher achievers and score better on intelligence tests," according to Lauren Sandler author of One and Only, herself an only child with an only child.

Being an only child is the new normal. There's a growing trend for families to have just the one. One child is the most common number of kids to have, at 3.7 million families. In official figures from 2012, that compares with 3 million two children families and 1.1 million with three or more.

The percentage of families with one dependent child increased by 5% between 1996 and 2012.

However, the figures are just a snapshot of families in one year. Parents may go on to have more children, or older children may have already left home.

So why the shift?

It could be the expense of having children, a rise in the cost of living, the price of childcare or it could be a belief that having one child is more realistic in a modern family.

Families where both parents work are now typical and having a single child can make that more feasible.

Women are starting to have families later. 30 is now the average age for a first child so there's less time to have more kids especially as fertility levels drop with age.

With divorce rates so high couples may only have had the chance to have one child before splitting up.

Plus points to being an only

Lots of attention. You don't have to compete for parental attention. Your wishes and feelings are considered much more readily than if you were one of a bunch of siblings.

Susan Newman is a leading expert on single children and author of The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide.

She says the positive aspects of having a single child are: "Time, attention, and the benefit of all family resources and that can include things parents don't necessarily think about such as learning from dinner table conversation."

Independence. You get to be happy in your own company as you tend to spend time alone at lot more than in families with siblings. You usually get your own room!

Maturity. You may be more self-confident and better at talking to adults as you are more used to their company.

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